Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters during a press conference with his Colombian counterpart that the United States is willing to consider removing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) from the State Department’s terrorist organizations list.
The removal would be contingent on FARC leaders accepting the terms of a long-touted peace deal between the FARC and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
“We consistently review terrorist group designations with respect to any country that has been designated,” Kerry responded to a reporter asking if removal from the terror list was a possibility for the more than-half-century-old terrorist organization, adding:
And I would say this: that if FARC makes peace and FARC lives up to the agreement … it would be only natural that within the context of our review process that the United States would take account of the steps that they have taken, which may change or may not change the situation.
“As part of the natural review process we would be reviewing the new facts,” Kerry concluded.
The question was asked at a press conference with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, in Washington to discuss American support for the peace deal in progress, as well as the Paz Colombia plan. That plan includes programs designed to de-mine regions of the country previously controlled by FARC, in addition to promoting alternative means of income generation for growers of coca plants.
Kerry met with FARC leaders during his visit to Cuba in March, a meeting he told reporters he “appreciated.” Despite harboring the leaders of a known terrorist group, Kerry’s State Department removed Cuba from its State Sponsors of Terrorism list last year.
After years of negotiations with FARC leader “Timochenko” in Havana, President Juan Manuel Santos announced last year that the government had come to an agreement with the FARC on a broad amnesty plan that would allow FARC terrorists to reintegrate into society. An estimated 7,000 FARC terrorists would be allowed to return to civilian life if they hand over their weapons. They will be processed through a special FARC court, which will determine whether they are guilty of “political crimes” or “crimes against humanity.” Those guilty of the former will not have to serve time in prison.
The FARC, a Marxist-Leninist group, is currently the wealthiest non-jihadist terrorist organization in the world. Overall, it is second only to the Islamic State and Hamas in wealth and makes more money than al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and the Taliban combined. It is estimated that they are currently keeping 419 people hostage in the dense jungles of Colombia and generate most of their income through ransom money and drug trafficking. Last month, the nephews of Venezuelan socialist President Nicolás Maduro confessed to American officials their intent to smuggle FARC cocaine into New York.
The United States has been a longtime ally in the war on the FARC. Thanks to sharing CIA counter-terrorism tactics perfected on the field in Afghanistan and Iraq, Colombian soldiers were able to reduce the FARC’s operational ability exponentially during the Bush administration, forcing its leaders to flee to Cuba. The FARC has leveraged the leniency of both the Santos and Obama administrations into the current peace deal, which could lead to the pardoning of thousands of criminals.
The United States has invested upwards of $10 billion in the fight against the FARC in the past 15 years.
Kerry’s comments come as the Colombian nations prepare to vote in a plebiscite in favor or against the peace deal. Leading the “no” vote is Senator Álvaro Uribe, who was president during the Bush administration and widely considered responsible for the progress against the FARC during the Bush era. Uribe has accused Santos of using intimidation tactics to force Colombians to support the peace process, including forcing public employees to attend pro-peace talk events and conditioning the appropriation of public funds on helping generate a higher “yes” vote.